By Jamison Cocklin
Dominic Marchionda’s decision to pursue plans for a hotel at the Stambaugh Building are exactly what the city’s downtown needs to grow and attract more business, say some of Youngstown’s business leaders.
Marchionda, who earlier this week highlighted a joint venture among his development group NYO Property Group, Pan Brothers Associates of New York and an unidentified hotel operator, says the project is in the conceptual stages, as cost estimates and architectural drawings still are being worked out.
“There’s no question about demand,” Marchionda said. “We’re receiving a feasibility study on that today; we really can’t say much more than that.”
A formal announcement on when construction might begin or the vision for the hotel is expected in the next 30 to 45 days, Marchionda added.
Dooney’s Downtown Grill and Bar, which occupies the first floor of the Stambaugh Building, could be forced to move depending on Marchionda’s plans.
“We’ll continue to work with Dooney’s. They’re welcome to stay through the construction process,” Marchionda said. “They understand the terms of their lease.”
Chris Sammarone, co-owner of Dooney’s, agreed. He said that Marchionda has been a “great landlord,” and though the two have not yet discussed Dooney’s future at the location, they’ll discuss the possibility of a move to another location if need be.
“There’s nothing I could say to confirm whether we’ll be here or not once the hotel is up, but I think it’s a little premature to discuss that,” Sammarone said. “There’s a lot of excitement about downtown right now, and everyone wants to be a part of the rejuvenation.”
Richard Hahn, president of Keynote Media Group, who also sits on the steering committee of the Downtown Business Alliance of Youngstown, said a hotel represents a crucial phase of development for the city’s downtown, but he acknowledged more needs to be done.
“We need a hotel more than anything at this particular moment,” Hahn said. “It makes it easier to market, especially if he brings in a brand-name hotel. The downtown needs recognizable brand names — we need those — it’s one of those things that spurs more business.”
For example, Hahn, who has offices downtown, said if “Starbucks believes that downtown Youngstown is a good place to do business, everybody else will, too.”
He added that a good mix of independent businesses and strong franchises helps create a more self- sustaining environment that draws more people to a city’s urban center.
Eric Planey, vice president of international business attraction at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, agreed.
“It’s not good to have just franchises or just independent businesses,” Planey said. “It’s good to have a little mix that creates culture and vitality.”
Marchionda also teamed up with Mike Naffah of Naffah Development on Tuesday to purchase the former Pig Iron Press building at 26 N. Phelps St. Though the two have not highlighted their plans for that space, it joins a growing list of projects downtown, including one at the Gallagher Building on the corner of North Hazel and West Commerce streets, where plans for a restaurant, apartments and office space will soon get under way.
But as activity ramps up downtown, Hahn said a host of issues will need to be addressed. Among them, he cited better parking, improved code enforcement and more communication between businesses and city government — something the downtown business alliance will work to achieve.
The group will have its first general meeting in about a month, and Hahn said the group has tentative plans to outfit downtown with more aesthetic way-finding signage.
“I’ve lost track of all the things that are happening,” Hahn said. “I think it’s important to note that all this change has been spurred on by a change in the community’s attitude. It’s not that the economy has got that much better; people are just more willing to make an investment in a growing part of the city.”